Sue Scheff: Drugs, Alcohol and Kids

Author: Judith SeixasGeraldine Youcha
Source: NYU Child Study Center

Although the latest government study finds drug use unchanged, kids are still at risk and experimenting at younger ages

Risk factors

Some youngsters are clearly more likely than others to be attracted to and hooked on drugs, nicotine and alcohol. The risk increases with any of these factors and a cluster of these factors can tip the scales:

1. A family history of drug use or alcoholism
2. A family in turmoil
3. Learning difficulties
4. Behavioral problems before adolescence
5. Early school failure
6. Hyperactivity
7. Poor impulse control
8. Rebelliousness
9. Low self-esteem
10. The belief that “it can’t happen to me”
11. Thinking marijuana (or cocaine, or heroin if it is not injected) is not addictive

Warning signs

There are also warning signs that can help parents decide if a problem is brewing or a child is already involved in substance use. Adolescence is a bumpy ride, and some of these warning signs may only be the normal symptoms of growing up, but parents have to be alert to the possibility that, with their particular child, they may indicate trouble. In general, you should suspect some drug use if you observe one or more of these indicators:

A change of friends from those you know and new friends who seem to avoid you. But don’t pin all your youngster’s troubles on “bad friends.” Often the child who is already troubled is the one who is drawn to a group that is taking dangerous risks and is heavily committed to using alcohol and drugs.

Friendship with older teenagers and young adults. Older users need the attention and admiration they get from younger kids and often entice them to be followers and dealers.
A best friend who uses drugs. This is the single best indicator of use.

Daily cigarette smoking. This is an early warning that other substance use may be in the picture.
A deterioration in appearance. The reverse is not necessarily a safety signal. Many drug users look like clean-cut all-American kids instead of stereotypical drug users.

A decline in performance at home. Chores may be neglected or done sloppily; curfew may be ignored.

A change in school performance. The drop in grades may or may not be a dramatic sign by itself, but watch for tardiness, truancy, and disciplinary problems.

Use of street or drug language.

Hypersensitivity, irritability. The teenage user is often hostile, avoids family contact, overreacts to mild criticism, and deflects the topic when pressed for accountability.

Lack of concern about people, ideas, and values that used to be very important.

Wide mood swings. Although mood changes are a normal part of adolescence, extreme emotional swings indicate a problem and be the result of drug or alcohol use.

Secretive phone calls. Callers who hang up when you answer may be your child’s new friends or acquaintances involved in substance use.

The disappearance of money, personal belongings, pills or alcohol.

The sudden appearance of expensive merchandise. Electronic equipment, clothes, or jewelry your child can’t possibly afford may indicate drug dealing. Be mindful that a teenager will often deny any illegal or inappropriate activity with explanations such as, “I borrowed it from a friend.”

Trouble with the law. Kids may be picked up for shoplifting, driving while intoxicated, disorderly conduct.
What if?
What if your suspicion about your child’s drug use is accurate? How can you tell use from abuse? One counselor has a simple rule of thumb: three tries is experimentation; more than that is use. Abuse is characterized by the need to have the drug (whether it is marijuana, cocaine, alcohol or tobacco) and preoccupation with getting it.

Once you’ve faced reality and know that your child needs help, the most crucial step is getting the right help. You must determine what kind of intervention is best for your particular child and what is available close to home. The right help at the right time can get your child back on track. You may not know where to turn first. You can begin by using your local phone book. Start with a call to one or more of these:

Your family doctor
Hotline: usually listed under Alcoholism Treatment or Drug Abuse Information and Treatment in the yellow pages
Community Services: often in the white pages
An agency specializing in treating drug/alcohol abuse and related problems: often listed in the yellow pages under Drug Abuse
A local counseling or mental health center: often under the yellow pages
A community-based storefront counseling center
A social worker, psychologist, or drug counselor
The school guidance department or student assistance service
A police youth officer
A clergyman
A relative, particularly one in a helping profession

Children who don’t use drugs

Despite the fact that drugs, alcohol and tobacco are available everywhere, some kids don’t get involved. More than half of all high school seniors have not tried marijuana, and alcohol, our social drug, has not been tried by about twenty percent of twelfth graders. Unfortunately, for those who do drink, binge drinking (5 or more drinks in a row) is a pervasive problem. What helps some youngsters avoid the pitfall of today’s world? Some children just seem to have an inner compass. They say very early, “That’s not me.” In addition, a national study (The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, 1997) found that teenagers who feel “connected”-who feel loved, understood and feel their parents pay attention to them-were less likely to use drugs. Parents can help protect their children by providing:

Trust and support. A study of seven thousand youngsters showed that those who didn’t have the trust and support of their parents were more likely to cave in to peer pressure.
Realistically hight academic standards.

The chance to succeed.
The chance to fail and still be accepted.
Praise, love and physical touching. The “Did you hug your kid today?” bumper stickers apply to kids of all ages – teens as well as toddlers. Adolescents sometimes cringe, but don’t let that inhibit you or make you think they need it any less than a younger child.

Whatever the reasons, and they are many-parental concern and involvement, a changing social climate that makes drug use, drunk driving, and smoking in public less “cool” than it once was-the rise in substance use seen in the early nineties seems to have been stemmed and may even be reversing. But this is no reason for complacency. It means only that the fever that had been 104 is now 102, and needs continuing attention.

About the Authors
Judith S. Seixas, a credentialed alcoholism counselor, who has written many books for young readers, including Alcohol: What It Is, What It Does; Drugs: What They Are, What They Do; and Living with a Parent Who Drinks Too Much.

Geraldine Youcha, author of Minding the Children: Child Care in American from Colonial Times to the Present and Alcohol: A Dangerous Pleasure. She has also written frequently about drug use and its side effects on the family for major magazines.

Judith S. Seixas and Geraldine Youcha are the co-authors of Children of Alcoholism: A Survivor’s Manual.

References and Related Books

Drugs, Alcohol and Your Children: What Every Parent Needs to Know J.S. Seixas & G. YouchaPenguin Books 1999
Tips for Teens
AboutOurKids Related Articles
Adolescent Substance Abuse and School Policy
Choosing a Mental Health Professional
Current Trends in the Understanding and Treaqtment of Social Phobia
Zero Tolerance Policies: Are They Too Tough or Not Tough Enough?
About the NYU Child Study Center
The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center’s mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at


Sue Scheff: Learn About Protecting Your Kids in Cyberspace

10 Tips For Keeping Your Kids Safe On Social Networks


ATLANTA, GAMay 28, 2008 — June is Internet Safety month.  With hundred of millions of teens, pre-teens—and adults—around the world using social networking sites, there’s no better time for parents to be aware of the fun, the benefits, the powerful attractions, and the potential risks that MySpace, Facebook and other similar sites offer their children., the recognized leader in Internet safety solutions, has assembled a list of practical tips parents can use to ensure a safe networking environment for kids:


  • Show Interest — Ask questions about how your child’s preferred social networking site or sites work.  Kids are generally happy to demonstrate their knowledge if you show genuine interest.  You can even ask your teen to show you how to set up your own social networking site—a great way to visit your child’s page and see what’s been posted there.
  • Encourage Instinctive Responses — Kids often can instinctively do the right thing, which makes them their own first defense against those who may take advantage online.  Encourage your children to avoid contact with people they “feel funny about.”  Tell them to not reveal anything online they would not want a stranger to know.  Limit the posting of pictures and remind them that once something is placed online, it can never be taken back.
  • Know Your Kids’ Passwords — If your child changes his or her password suddenly and refuses to share it with you, that’s trouble.  Insist on knowing how to access his or her accounts—then keep their confidence by not sharing the information with their friends or siblings.
  • Set Hours for When Kids Can Access Social Networks — Late nights are the favorite time for predators to seek out their adolescent prey.  Set firm limits not only for the time of day, but also the total amount of time, that your children may access social networking sites.
  • Be Aware of Alternate Access Points — Kids don’t have to access their social networks at home.  Libraries, friends’ houses, even cell phones make the Internet easy to reach today.  Keep up with what’s happening on your child’s social networking page and be aware when changes have been made despite the lack of access from home.
  • Exercise Your Parental Right to Supervise — There’s a difference between being snoopy and ensuring safe activity.  You don’t have to read every last word of a personal message your son or daughter sends to a friend.  But you do have the right—and the obligation—to see who your kids are talking to, and to know the general subject matter. 
  • Check for Photos — By clicking on the Windows “Start” button, you’ll find the “Search” tool.  Click on “Pictures, Music or Video,” the box next to “Pictures and Photos,” and finally “Search”.  Ask your child to identify any photos of strangers, or any other pictures you find questionable.
  • Install Filtering Software — PC products like Safe Eyes allow parents to block or record Instant Messenger chats, limit email use to prescribed addresses, block objectionable Web sites (including peer-to-peer file sharing programs that often expose kids to inappropriate material), and receive alerts when kids post personal information on social networking sites.
  • Watch for CyberBullying — Encourage your children to tell you immediately if they are being harassed online.  Children also need to know that it is not acceptable to be a party to cyberbullying—or to remain silent when they know others are being harassed.  Visit or for excellent tips and information.
  • Don’t Lecture — Finally, if you should find reasons for concern, don’t browbeat, insult or condescend to your child.  Have a discussion about values and why they are important.  Respect your child but be firm.  And most of all, lead by example.  Parents have a powerful ability to influence their child’s behavior—and nothing is more powerful than someone who not only talks values, but lives them.

“Parents should never feel that their level of involvement in their child’s social network activity is excessive.  Since 1998, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline has logged over 33,000 tips about children being enticed online for sexual acts,” said Shane Kenny, President and COO of  “Better that the parent error on the side of intrusion, rather than bear the consequences of doing nothing.”




Established in 1999, specializes in providing Internet safety solutions.  Its flagship software, Safe Eyes, is the two-time recipient of the PC Magazine Editors’ Choice Award and was rated as the #1 parental control solution by America’s leading consumer advocacy publication.  The company’s Safe Eyes and EtherShield products are providing online protection for PCs and Macs in homes, businesses and schools across more than 125 countries. 


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